Just beyond the shadows of the Grampian mountains, among the dusty plains of the Wimmera, there’s a little wooden shack that has a heart and a soul. It was built by a local farmer, Graham, from timbers that he rescued from old tumbledown farm buildings, and furnished and decorated by his wife Buffy, and their artist friend, Julie Kent. Together, they’ve created a rustic paradise, where all is well in the world and every day is touched by magic.
Okay, I admit I was getting a bit carried away there. But seriously, the shack is a special place, built with love. And Wimmera, Victoria’s ‘wild west’, is surrounded by natural wonders that give the whole region a magical quality. To the south, the rugged Grampians and Mount Arapiles rise above vast plains and plateaux, as if they’ve been carefully placed in exactly the right spot to beautify the landscape. As the sun dips below the horizon, the sky lights up in a blaze of colour and the tilted ridges of the mountains glow deep magenta and violet. To the north, there’s a lake that’s literally marshmallow and candyfloss pink. It doesn’t just glow pink at sunrise and sunset, it looks like pink confectionary in the midday sun, and for as far as the eye can see. To the west, there’s a wilderness of sand dunes and wild flowers known as the Little Desert, which is a haven for wedge-tailed eagles and flocks of brightly coloured parrots, rosellas and budgies. There might also be the odd dragon and troll living there, I’m not sure.
At the centre of this fairy-tale landscape is the shack that Graham and Buffy brought to life in a shady corner of their farm, on the banks of the Wimmera River. I’m sure it must have originated as a place for family fun and frolics – somewhere for their five children to escape to when they wanted their own space, and for Buffy’s family to stay on their three-yearly visits over from the UK. That would help explain how the shack came to have such a big heart – something that’s difficult to create for strangers or by strangers, even when the most talented and capable shack-builders and decorators are involved.
Graham and Buffy probably do have magic wands, though, and somebody should write their story. In a nutshell, they met in Nepal when they were both young travellers, and ended up living in a shared house in Early (near Reading, in the UK) when they were students in the late 1980s. During that time, Buffy and Graham became great friends: Buffy, an English girl with a great sense of adventure, and Graham, an Aussie guy with a dream of buying a farm back home. It wasn’t until years later, when Buffy was travelling in Australia and the old friends met up again, that they fell in love and settled down together at their farm in Riverside. So began the fairy tale of Wimmera.
We stayed in Buffy and Graham’s shack for five wonderful days, getting to know them, their farm, the local town of Horsham, and the region’s national parks. It was an unexpected highlight of our Australian adventure, made sweeter by the fact it wasn’t part of our original itinerary, and in fact is a long way off the beaten track even for most well-travelled Australians. We ended up going there on the recommendation of a family we met when we were travelling around Tasmania in January. We’d met them in the tiny old mining village of Rossarden, and we’d spent the afternoon with them (you can read about it in Al’s blog piece, here), and they’d urged us to stop at the Grampians on our way through Victoria to South Australia.
The magic of Wimmera will stay with us for a long time. We took the chance to do some hiking in the Grampians, including some serious fun scrambling up Hollow Mountain, one of the range’s highest peaks.
We walked around the pink lake and then went off-road along the sandy tracks and up and down the sand dunes of the Little Desert – an experience that taught us some more eye-opening features of our trusty Land Rover.
And best of all, we spent time on the farm, enjoying the starry nights, sunny days, and long walks with Bailey and Saffy – and with Buffy and Graham’s dogs, Maggie, Gaia and Stan, who would jump the homestead’s fence to join us.
In the end, we didn’t want to leave, and nor did Bailey, who was absolutely joyful at being part of a pack. He could hardly believe his luck that we’d found a place in the world where there are three farm dogs who not only tolerate his eccentric (often anti-social!) ways, but also want to play with him all day long. It was all part of the fairy tale.